This one is pure fun. The Dunderheads is a story that would have pleased me greatly as a child, raised as I was on Roald Dahl’s silliest, dirtiest, nastiest tales. There are definitely shades of Dahl in Paul Fleischman’s picture book, (and David Roberts’ illustrations are very Quentin Blake-esque, which therefore makes them perfect). The whole package is clever, funny and beautifully designed, and it somehow manages to be a bit over the top in places but never overdone. Clever indeed.
The Dunderheads are a motley crew of semi-naughty but oh-so-talented children, despised by their terribly awful teacher, Miss Breakbone. She hates kids. She makes them cry. She mocks them. She takes their stuff and they are tired of it. So they get together to make a plan to get the stolen items back. Each one brings a special talent to the team. They stake out Miss Breakbone’s house, and launch their attack.
The story is all about ingenuity, creativity, justice (kid-style), the danger in underestimating kids and talent. It’s as light as it gets, but it can get kids thinking about the power of teamwork, secret skills and creating a strategy. David Roberts’ illustrations are quirky and understated, clean-looking and stylish.
I’ve read reviews calling it The Mysterious Benedict Society for little kids. I think that works, what with the genius kids working together to outsmart the evil grown up. Perhaps because I just finished Swindle, I was looking at it more like a fabulous little heist book for reading aloud to the 6-year old set, or for younger readers to enjoy on their own. However you look at it, we need more picture books this funny and this well designed.
(As a semi-related aside, while searching for more info on David Roberts, I cam across a groovy-looking blog on children’s book design and illustration. It’s called the apple and the egg, and I like it).
Here are a few more reviews: